The group entered the tavern, which was just as deserted in the front as it had been the first time Adrianna had been there.
“You take them through,” Matteo told her. “I’ll have a quick word with Luca and then I’ll be through. The guys will be sitting at the same table they were last week.”
“You’re speaking again today?”
“Just a short one tonight.”
“Then I’ll see you soon,” Adrianna replied, standing on tiptoes to kiss Matteo before walking away with Rowena and Artem.
“I like him,” Rowena whispered to her as they headed for the door at the back of the room. “He clearly adores you, I can tell, and he’s very well spoken.”
“I’m glad you like him,” Adrianna replied. “It means more to me that you approve than my father. I know that he would only every accept his choice of man as my future husband.”
“So you think you’re going to marry him?” Rowena asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Adrianna said, looking over her shoulder to where Matteo was whispering something to Luca. “I suppose if things went well and I was free to make my own choice, he might want to marry me.”
“That’s not the question I asked. Do you want to marry Matteo?”
“If he asked me, yes, I think I would marry him.”
“But?” Rowena prompted.
“I just don’t know if he would have me if things didn’t go well and we didn’t get the result we wanted. If women didn’t get an equal say to men. My father would never let me ruin his name by marrying against his wishes and Matteo wouldn’t want to be connected to Duke Giordano, one of the people who benefits most from the system he wants to bring down. And on top of that there is Count Alberto. He’s not going to give me up, not to a nobody with money but no title. There is too much pointing against us at the moment to think about the future.”
“If you say so,” Rowena said cryptically. “I’m saying nothing. Is it through here?”
The group of three walked through the door and into the back room where the room was full. There were a few less people than there had been the week before, but it was still a struggle to reach the other side of the room where Matteo’s friends were sitting around their table.
“Adrianna,” Dialta exclaimed, rising from her chair and hugging her friend. “I was so worried you wouldn’t be able to make it. Matteo told us you had some problems with your father.”
“I was a little worried too,” Adrianna confessed, “but luckily that’s all sorted and here I am. I’ve got some friends that I’d like to introduce you all to. This Ena and Artem.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Dialta said, shaking hands with the couple behind Adrianna. “We’ll pull up some more seats.”
Once everyone had greeted the newcomers, everyone sat down, Rowena and Artem sitting together in between Dialta and Luciana. The former was incredibly interested in the two strangers for some reason and began chatting to them intently, listening to everything Rowena said.
Adrianna took the same seat she had been given the week before, next to Alexander.
“It’s good to see you again,” he said, hugging Adrianna as she sat down.
“You too,” she replied. “I’ve missed your enthusiastic rants.”
“I do believe you’re toying with me.”
“Trust me, after the week I’ve had, your rants are far better than any of the conversations I’ve had to endure.”
“Do tell,” he said, his interest stirred by Adrianna’s vague statement. “I’d love to hear about what happens in the high society world of the nobles.”
“It’s nothing too interesting,” Adrianna replied, not wanting to give too much away. “Let’s just say I’ve attracted the attention of two nobles I would rather remain hidden from.”
“Do I hear wedding bells?” He joked, not knowing that Adrianna’s worst fear would be realised in only a few days and she would never be able to sit and talk like this with these people ever again.
“I hope not,” Ava replied from her seat across the table. “We don’t want to lose one of our newest members when we’ve only just got her.”
Adrianna smiled warmly at Ava, feeling so happy to have been accepted into Matteo’s circle so easily and how fiercely Ava seemed to want to keep her there. She hadn’t known loyalty like that, not even from Lady Lagana, and she didn’t want to lose that.
“So what’s changed since I last saw you?” Adrianna asked Alexander while they waited for Matteo to make his appearance on stage.
“Not a lot, still in the same old place doing the same old job. We got a load of horses coming in to be re-shod these past days, I think they were from the Ferserian lot that came in a few days ago. Beautiful beasts but so temperamental, it was the hardest job I’ve ever had.”
“How do you mean?”
“Trying to get them to stand still for long enough was a challenge in itself. They were all so jittery it was impossible to shoe them. Luckily the stable master was there to calm them down and I eventually managed to get them to lift up their hooves long enough to get the shoes on.”
“They probably didn’t like the strangeness of where they were,” Rowena said without thinking from the other side of the table. “Places they don’t recognise can usually set them off.”
“You work with horses?” Alexander asked Rowena, a surprised look on his face.
“Not really, but I spend a lot of time around them,” she said, trying not to give away too much information about herself. “My father loved them.”
“Here he is,” Georgie said, pointing to the table at the front of the room where Matteo had just appeared, standing triumphantly on the wooden surface.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t decide to go on for as long as he did last week,” Alexander moaned. “He can overdo a point sometimes.”
“Quiet down,” Dialta said from the other side of Alexander, giving him an elbow in the ribs. “I want to hear what he’s saying.”